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Rivalry Week: What it means for…

Nick Saban AP

Rivalry Week is at once the best and worst of times for college football fans.

At its best, this extended weekend wrapped around the Thanksgiving holiday offers up a litany of games that mean something beyond conference or BCS implications, giving all fan bases something just as meaty and satisfying: bragging rights and pride, especially when it’s an in-state rival humbled in defeat on the opposing sideline.  At its worst, however, this weekend means that yet another college football season is quickly wrapping up, with just a handful of regular season games remaining to go along with conference championship games and bowls.

There are, though, the obvious implications beyond just bragging rights and pride.  Myriad implications, from conference races to BCS placement to the chase for the 2013 Heisman Trophy.

So, with that as the backdrop, here’s a look at the marquee matchups for Week 14 and the potential implications the outcomes of the games could/would/should have on all fronts.

No. 1 Alabama at No. 4 Auburn
“The Mother of All Iron Bowls” indeed.  The stunning turnaround by Auburn under Gus Malzahn — from 3-9, 0-8 last season to 10-1, 6-1 in 2013 — has nearly overshadowed Alabama’s quest for three straight BCS titles and four in five years .  Who would’ve thought, prior to September, that this year’s version of the Iron Bowl would carry more conference and national weight than Alabama’s games against Texas A&M and LSU combined?  Certainly not anyone who doesn’t end their prayers with “War Damn Eagle!”  Speaking of a Higher Football Power, the last four Iron Bowl winners have gone on to win the BCS championship.

What it means for…
… the SEC: Everything, at least as far as the West is concerned.  It’s a winner-take-all battle, with the victor staking its claim to the divisional title and a spot in the conference championship game against either Missouri or South Carolina.  The Tide would earn a share of the divisional title even with a loss, although, obviously, the head-to-head tiebreaker would go to the Tigers with a win.
… the BCS: An Alabama win keeps the No. 1 Tide on its year-long inside track for one of the two spots in the BCS title game.  Even with a loss, Alabama would be a near-shoe-in for an at-large berth in a BCS bowl, although that wouldn’t be clarified until after the conference championship game.  The same could be said for Auburn, which would get serious consideration for an at-large bid despite an Iron Bowl loss.
… the Heisman: Thanks to the missteps of others in Week 13, AJ McCarron has suddenly vaulted into the No. 2 position behind Florida State’s Jameis Winston in the eyes of both the voters and the oddsmakers.  A strong performance on a national stage would most certainly keep the Tide quarterback toward the top of the conversation and, depending on how the Winston off-field situation plays out, could send him hurtling toward front-runner status.

No. 2 Florida State at Florida
To say that the Sunshine State rivalry has lost some luster for this year’s game would be an understatement.  While Florida State is more than holding up its end of the bargain — nationally-ranked and seemingly predestined for a shot at the crystal — Florida enters the game armed with an embattled head coach and a six-game losing streak that’s the program’s worst since 1979.  The Gators won last year in Tallahassee, although the Seminoles are four-touchdown favorites this year in The Swamp.  While his boss continues to back him, Will Muschamp directing an embarrassing blowout loss in Gainesville could force Jeremy Foley to reconsider that very strident public support.

What it means for…
… the ACC/SEC: Literally nothing for either conference.  FSU has already locked up the Atlantic division’s spot in the ACC championship game, while UF was long ago eliminated from SEC East contention.
… the BCS: For a team that’s outscored its opponents 402-65 the past seven games, this game would appear to be nothing more than a worn-down speed bump on its inexorable march to the BCS title game.  Seemingly the only thing standing between the Seminoles and an early-January date in the Rose Bowl is a win over the Gators as well as an ACC championship game in which they will be prohibitive favorites regardless of which team comes out of the Coastal.
… the Heisman: For Jameis Winston, the Heisman is his for the taking — provided he doesn’t trip over himself the next two weeks and, more importantly, the investigation into an alleged sexual assault doesn’t give him bigger things to worry about than a fumbled trophy.

No. 3 Ohio State at Michigan
Michigan has stumbled through a disappointing season with a 7-4 record that could easily be sub-.500 were it not for a couple of escapes against vastly inferior opponents.  At the other end of the spectrum is Ohio State, riding a nation’s best 23-game winning streak.  In fact, the Buckeyes set a school record last weekend, surpassing the 22-game streak of the 1967-69 squads.  The team that snapped the previous mark?  The 7-2 Wolverines in Ann Arbor, of course.  When it comes to The Game, you just never ever know  — especially when a heavy home underdog is involved.

What it means for…
… the Big Ten: As is the case for the game above this one, absolutely nothing.  Not only have the Buckeyes already clinched the Leaders division, they also already know they will face Legends winner Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game next weekend in Indianapolis.  Thanks to NCAA sanctions last year, OSU will be making its first-ever appearance in the conference title game.
… the BCS: If Ohio State has any shot at a BCS title, they have to hope either Alabama or Florida State loses once the next two weekends.  Outside of the crystal title game, they could also earn an automatic BCS bowl bid with two more wins, or perhaps an at-large bid with a loss in the Big Ten title game.  Either way, their BCS future won’t be decided until next weekend, although it could certainly take a significant at-large hit with a loss this weekend.
… the Heisman: When it comes to the Buckeyes and stiff-armed talk, “what if” is certainly in play.  Braxton Miller entered the 2013 season as the Heisman front-runner, but an injury that cost him a pair of September games knocked him completely off the radar.  Thanks to the stumbles of others, the quarterback is back on at least the periphery of the discussion, although it would take something monumental to once again make the junior a serious contender.  Perhaps Carlos Hyde, he of the three-game suspension to start the year, could make a late push?  Doubtful, but, as the last couple of weeks have shown, anything is possible when it comes to the most prestigious award in college football.

No. 6 Clemson at No. 10 South Carolina
Stated simply, South Carolina has owned this rivalry of late with wins each of the past four years, with none coming by less than 10 points.  Steve Spurrier has Dabo Swinney‘s number and is not shy about letting people know about it, which is part and parcel of why this is such a tremendous non-conference rivalry.

What it means for…
… the ACC/SEC: Clemson’s chances at an Atlantic division title went down in flames in the midst of a 37-point beatdown at the hands of Florida State in mid-October.  If Missouri loses to Texas A&M, South Carolina will represent the East in the SEC championship game.
… the BCS: The Gamecocks’ lone opportunity for a BCS bowl rests in securing the SEC’s automatic bid via a conference championship.  If Florida State does indeed make the BCS title game, the Tigers are primed to replace the Seminoles in the Orange Bowl and insert the 70-33 jokes here.
… the Heisman: You would think that Tajh Boyd would be in the thick of the Heisman conversation.  The Clemson quarterback’s not, and I don’t have a clue as to why.

No. 25 Notre Dame at No. 8 Stanford
While it’s hardly on par with Notre Dame-USC, Notre Dame-Stanford has evolved into quite the entertaining rivalry the past several years.  Of the past nine games played, six have been decided by eight points or less.  The Irish own a 6-3 edge during that span, including an overtime win in South Bend last season en route to the BCS championship game.

What it means for…
… the Pac-12: The North division’s game of hot potato continued — and ultimately ended — last week thanks to Oregon’s lopsided loss to Arizona, handing the division title and a spot in the conference title game to Stanford.  The Cardinal will (likely) travel a week later to South winner Arizona State for a game that will decide the league’s automatic BCS berth.  If the Sun Devils lose to the same Wildcats that dumped the Ducks, the Cardinal would play host.
… the BCS: The Irish have no chance to move into the top-14 of the final BCS rankings necessary to qualify them for an at-large BCS bid.  If the Cardinal entertain any hope of qualifying for a fourth straight BCS bowl, they will need to win the conference; a third loss, whether it be this week or next, would effectively eliminate them from at-large contention.

No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 5 Missouri
One year after Texas A&M exploded onto the SEC scene in wildly-entertaining fashion, the Aggies have been reduced to playing the role of spoiler to a fellow former Big 12 member.  Playing the role of 2012 A&M is Missouri, which enters Week 14 with something the Aggies of a year ago didn’t: an opportunity to claim its first SEC divisional crown.

What it means for…
… the SEC: The conference scenario for Mizzou is very simple and straightforward.  Win, and the Tigers are in the SEC championship game as the East’s representative.  Lose and they’re out, replaced by South Carolina.
… the BCS: With three losses on their current résumé, there’s no need to use “A&M” and “BCS bowl” in the same sentence, unless it’s separated by “won’t be in a.”  Just as it was for its conference scenario, Mizzou’s BCS dreams are very simple and straightforward: win this weekend… win next weekend… and they’re in as the SEC’s automatic bid.  Lose at any point the next two weeks, and the Tigers will (very likely) be sitting outside the BCS window looking in.
… the Heisman: Johnny Manziel made significant repeat strides in the eyes of those who passionately follow the Heisman the last several weeks before a damaging performance against LSU seemingly knocked him out of contention.  Of course, based on how the stiff-armed landscape has drastically shifted the past couple of weeks, a resurgent performance against a high-quality opponent could put the reigning Heisman winner right back in the conversation.

Texas Tech at Texas
No. 9 Baylor at TCU
The most interesting aspect of this pair of games is how Baylor responds to an embarrassing and devastating loss.  In firm control of the Big 12 race entering Week 13 and with a BCS title game appearance a possibility, the Bears’ loss to Oklahoma State all but ruined what was a once-promising season.  A loss to the Cowboys the previous week, oddly enough, also cost Texas control of its own destiny in the conference.

What it means for…
… the Big 12: Here are the scenarios for each of the one-loss teams currently tied atop the Big 12 standings and what they need to happen to claim the conference crown.

  • Oklahoma State: a win over Oklahoma in Bedlam Dec. 7 coming off a bye week, regardless of what Baylor or Texas do and based on head-to-head wins over both.
  • Baylor: an OSU loss, plus wins over TCU and Texas.
  • Texas: an OSU loss, plus wins over Texas Tech and Baylor.

… the BCS: For both Baylor and Texas, their BCS bowl odds are long.  Each needs an Oklahoma State loss in order to claim the Big 12’s automatic berth as neither will be in play for an at-large bid, although there’s an asterisk when it comes to that absolute –there are a couple of scenarios that could get BU in as an at-large, although they are longshots at best and pipe dreams at worst.

No. 24 Duke at North Carolina
Will the shoe fit, or will the clock strike midnight on Duke’s Cinderella season?  The Blue Devils are in the midst of a historic campaign, with nine wins tying the school record set in 1941 and the opportunity to reach double digits for the first time since the program began playing football back in 1922.  They’ve qualified for a bowl game in back-to-back seasons for the first time ever.  Simply put, Duke is one of the best stories of the 2013 season.  Whether the Blue Devils cap their fairy-tale story with a divisional crown remains to be seen.

What it means for…
… the ACC: If Duke beats North Carolina, which has won five straight after beginning the season 1-5, the Blue Devils will stake their claim to their first-ever ACC Coastal title.  If not?  A five-way tie between Duke (5-2), Virginia Tech (4-3), Miami (4-3), Georgia Tech (5-3) and North Carolina (4-3) is a possibility, although only the first four remain alive in the divisional race.  So, if Duke loses and all Coastal hell breaks loose, here’s what each team would need in order to secure the spot as Florida State’s sacrificial lamb in the ACC championship game.

  • Duke: a win over North Carolina; cannot win the division with a loss.
  • Virginia Tech: a Duke loss, plus a win over Virginia.
  • Miami: a Duke loss, a Virginia Tech loss, plus a win over Pittsburgh.
  • Georgia Tech (ACC slate complete): a Duke loss, a Virginia Tech loss, a Miami loss.

… the BCS: Whichever team survives the Coastal chaos and represents the division in the division in the ACC championship technically has an opportunity to secure an automatic BCS bid.  Realistically, none of the four teams with a chance to win the Coastal has any type of shot at upsetting the Seminoles in Charlotte.

USF at No. 19 UCF
How little respect does UCF get?  The Knights, whose lone loss on the season came by three points to No. 10 South Carolina, are ranked by the coaches three spots behind a one-loss Louisville team that UCF beat on the road.  Obviously the lack of respect for the AAC as a whole is playing a significant role, but it doesn’t change the fact that George O’Leary‘s squad deserves better treatment in the polls than what they’ve been getting.

What it means for…
… the AAC: A win by UCF pushes its conference record to 7-0 and clinches the AAC regardless of what the Knights do a week later against SMU.  Louisville’s conference title hopes remain alive but on life support, with the Cardinals needing two UCF losses as well as a win of their own Dec. 5 at Cincinnati.
… the BCS: The AAC receives an automatic BCS bid, so a conference crown for UCF also means a guaranteed spot at the BCS table, with the chair likely coming in the Sugar Bowl against an SEC foe.

No. 16 Fresno State at San Jose State
This game is all about the scenarios and possibilities, which appear below.

What it means for…
… the MWC: Fresno State has already clinched the West and will represent that division in the MWC championship game.  The Bulldogs will face Utah State for the league title if the Aggies beat Wyoming Saturday, Boise State — based on the head-to-head tiebreaker with USU — if the Broncos beat New Mexico and the Aggies lose.
… the BCS: If Fresno State can win out, they will battle Northern Illinois for what should be the lone BCS bowl berth for a non-automatic qualifying conference member.  In order for a non-AQ to qualify for an at-large bid, it needs to finish in the top-16 of the final BCS rankings and ahead of the lowest-ranked AQ conference winner (No. 19 UCF in this case); the Huskies leapfrogged the Bulldogs in last week’s rankings and are now at No. 14, while Fresno sits at No. 16.  Whichever of those two teams finish ranked higher in the final BCS standings, provided it’s in the top-16 and ahead of (presumably) UCF, will grab the non-AQ berth and a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.
… the Heisman: Derek Carr is one of the most prolific passers in the country, ranking first in total offense and passing touchdowns and second in passing yards.  Up until this week, however, he’s barely been a part of the Heisman discussion.  Thanks to the shortcomings of others he’s now in the mix, although it should never have taken others tripping up for that to happen.

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Paul Johnson was on fire talking Ohio State, Georgia, Notre Dame and SEC

Paul Johnson

Clemson’s Dabo Swinney was not the only ACC coach sharing some hot takes today while going through the annual ESPN carwash in Bristol. Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson also made some heads turn with his comments about Ohio State getting in the College Football Playoff and rival Georgia. Well, they were not so much boiling hot takes, but still bringing enough sizzle to make it worth sharing and reacting.

Johnson’s Georgia Tech team put Florida State to the test in last season’s ACC Championship Game. With the win in the conference title game, Florida State locked down a perfect regular season to help grab a firm hold on one of the four playoff spots in the College Football Playoff. Meanwhile, Ohio State made one last case to get in ahead of Big 12 co-champions Baylor and TCU. As has been suggested by some, including TCU’s Gary Patterson, Ohio State may have gotten in due to being a more recognizable brand in the college football landscape compared to either Big 12 co-champ. Johnson seems to agree.

Asked if brand names come into play with the playoff, Johnson said “It already came into play with TCU and Ohio State. It’s the world we live in.”

Johnson also sees little difference between Georgia and top ACC programs like Florida State and Clemson.

“I can assure you Georgia isn’t any different than Clemson or Florida State or some other teams we play,” Johnson said at one point during his carwash experience. Johnson has some merits to back up his statement, having coached Georgia Tech to victories over both Georgia and Mississippi State last season.

Johnson was also asked whether or not the SEC champion should automatically be rewarded a spot in the College Football Playoff (why this question was posed to Johnson is beyond comprehension).

Why so? I don’t get it,” Johnson said.

Just for good measure, Johnson joined Swinney in commenting on Notre Dame’s independence, saying the Irish should be in the ACC. “It’s another brand program to strengthen the conference,” Johnson said.

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Mark Dantonio says RB Delton Williams will return for fall camp after firearms charge

Delton Williams, Ryan Russell

Michigan State running back Delton Williams is expected to return to the team in time for fall camp. The school announced the timeline through a released statement early Monday evening. This was suspected to eventually be the case earlier this month.

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said Williams “has satisfied the University’s, court’s and football program’s expectations.” Michigan State confirmed Williams violated a university ordinance by possessing a weapon on campus last March. He has been away from the program since that time after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor firearms charge stemming from a road rage incident.

“Delton comprehends the severity of the situation and understands that decisions have consequences,” Dantonio went on to say in his statement. “He also appreciates the fact that wearing the Michigan State uniform is a privilege and not his right.”

Dantonio is spot on with that last statement, and it holds true in every football program around the country. What is unknown at this time though is whether or not Williams will miss any playing time as well. No information regarding any potential suspensions to be served during the season was revealed, although Dantonio could very well be asked about that later this week at Big Ten media days.

Williams appeared in 13 games for Michigan State last season, in which he rushed for 316 yards and five touchdowns. Both of those numbers were good for third on the team behind Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill. With both having moved on, Williams is Michigan State’s leading rusher returning in 2015.

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Dabo Swinney calls for Notre Dame to join a conference

Dabo Swinney

Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel made it clear what he thought of Notre Dame and the playoff discussion. They need to join a conference to be in consideration. Apparently Pinkel is not alone on this stance.

Enter Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, who echoed the belief Pinkel shared that suggested it is time for Notre Dame to join a conference. Swinney said if Notre Dame is to remain independent, then they should be playing a 13th game on the schedule.

Notre Dame is a partial member of the ACC, competing in the league in all sports except football and ice hockey. The Irish retain their football independence as part of the ACC agreement, but set aside a handful of games against ACC opponents every season on a rotating basis. Among Notre Dame’s rotating ACC opponents this season is Clemson, with the Fighting Irish traveling to Death Valley on October 3.

The importance of a 13th game was put on display last season with Big 12 co-champions Baylor and TCU each being left out of the College Football Playoff in favor of four conference champions that played a 13th game. Most notably, perhaps, was Ohio State jumping into the fourth and final spot after demolishing Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Buckeyes, of course, went on to win the national championship, while Baylor and TCU were left to wonder “What if?”

The only way to play a 13th game in college football without having the luxury of a conference championship game is to schedule a road game at Hawaii. Teams that do that are allowed to schedule one additional home game on top of a traditional 12-game schedule to make up for travel expenses.

I’m getting to the point where I just want Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly to start dropping names of programs and saying they need to go independent, just to mix things up.

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Uniform round-up: Air Force, Bowling Green and USF show off new looks for 2015

Navy at Air Force

While we hit an off day on the college football media day calendar on Monday, some athletics programs were busy pumping out some photos and video of new uniforms to be worn this upcoming season. While the tease continues for the new brand look of Arizona State presented by Adidas, Air Force, Bowling Green and USF gave fans a glimpse of what is to come this fall with their programs.

AIR FORCE

This is the kind of look you want to see from a service academy program. It is clean, sharp and nowhere close to being an embarrassment gone overboard just to attract some buzz. Air Force’s new uniforms are the latest in the line of Nike’s Pro Combat series (appropriate name of course). The Mach Speed line features lightweight fabric and allows for maximum ventilation for the players. Let’s stick to the basics though, because that is what Air Force did here. The signature white helmet with the blue lightning bolt is untouched. The uniforms for home and away are either blue with gray numbers and letters reading “Air Force” across the chest or white with numbers and lettering in blue. Nothing out of the ordinary, and Air Force even looks good with switching up the pants at home. When it comes to uniforms, Army, Navy and Air Force just seem to get it right every time by sticking to their individual programs and characteristics. It’s nice to see.

BOWLING GREEN

So here’s the thing I never understood with Bowling Green. The color green is right there in the name of the school, yet the school continues to emulate the look of the Cleveland Browns with orange and brown. This isn’t like the Netherlands adopting orange as the nation’s color either. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Cleveland Browns uniform is actually rather good, but why does Bowling Green have to use the same basic look? Whatever the case may be, if these are the colors Bowling green is going to rock, then at least they seem to do it well. I am not a fan of the all-brown attire, but the orange jersey seems to look pretty good. The helmet, both orange and white, are pretty solid as well.

USF

OK, there is a lot to digest here, and there are actually more combos that were shared that I left out. First off, kudos to the folks at Under Armour for giving USF so many decent uniforms. Is it too much? Yeah, it may be. A program attempting to establish an identity can get a little distracted along the way to trying to be Florida’s version of Oregon, but hey, whatever works. As far as the uniforms go, we see a home uniform with a white helmet that looks legit. I have been a big fan of USF’s white helmet and it seems to pair well with the uniform shown here, even if the side of the uniform seems to be getting a little busy. We also see a home uniform paired with the green matte helmet with reflective chrome logo that has been blown up in size. I was never a huge fan of that helmet, but it is far from the most offensive helmet out there. That chrome helmet though, is a thing of beauty. It seems hard to mess up a chrome helmet.

The uniform that may catch your eye the most may be the retro-style USF uniform. Mind you, this is not a throwback, but more of an attempt to give the USF uniform a 1970s vibe on the shoulder pads. That’s my reaction to it at least. You know what? I kind of dig it. The photos pair it with the white USF helmet, but I would love to see USF throw together a 1970s style logo on a matte-finish helmet to complete the look.

What do you think about these new uniforms for Air Force, Bowling Green or USF?

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UNC QB Marquise Williams, WR Quinshad Davis cleared for fall practices

Marquise Williams

North Carolina’s dual-threat quarterback has been cleared to go for fall practices. That is a very good sign for UNC head coach Larry Fedora and his offense.

Fedora confirmed quarterback Marquise Williams and wide receiver Quinshad Davis have each been 100 percent cleared by medical staff to participate in fall camp. That gives the Tar Heels two key players on the offense that is expected by some to have a strong season in the ACC Coastal Division, perhaps even helping North Carolina to make a run to the ACC Championship Game.

Williams suffered a hip injury that kept him out of spring practices. Williams is coming off a 3,000-yard passing season, going for 3,073 passing yards with 21 touchdowns to nine interceptions. In addition to his passing production last fall, Williams also rushed for a team-high 783 yards and 13 touchdowns to give opposing defensive coordinators a little more to think about.

Davis, rebounding form a leg injury, was UNC’s third-leading receiver last fall, accounting for 470 receiving yards and six touchdowns (good for second on the team). The senior is expected to be another contributor on offense this season along with Ryan Switzer and Mack Hollins, UNC’s two leading receivers in 2014.

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Boise State carries Group of 5 banner with it to Mountain West media days

Mountain West Championship

Boise State has gone from perennial BCS busting candidate to the new team to beat in the Group of Five conversation. The postseason format may have evolved to open a door for the non-power conference schools, but Boise State remains the program the rest are chasing in pursuit of a spot in the New Years Six line-up. As the Mountain West Conference gets ready to begin its annual media day event in Las Vegas, Boise State will be under a familiar spotlight.

The preseason Mountain West Conference poll will be released tomorrow. When it is, expect Boise State to be on top. We won’t hear from Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin and the Bronco player representatives until Wednesday, but questions about being the favorites and the New Years Six figure to be fired in their direction when they do meet the press. This has become the norm for Boise State. While dreams of receiving an invitation to the Big 12 will be left unfilled, Boise State has established itself as a program  in a terrific spot to be in the big money bowls at the end of the season under the new postseason format with the College Football Playoff. The strength of the Mountain West Conference plays in Boise State’s favor, as the champion out of the conference figures to have a healthier profile than a conference champion from Conference USA or the Sun Belt Conference, and more often than not the champion out of the MAC.

Who will be the biggest threat to Boise State this season? Outside of a healthy Chuckie Keeton and Utah State and perhaps San Diego State out of the West Division, Boise State fans should be paying close attention to the developments in the American Athletic Conference. Cincinnati and Houston could be the biggest challengers competing indirectly with the Broncos. As Boise State fans are well aware, there is no time to waste comparing what Boise State does with what happens in other conferences if Boise State does not take care of its own business.

Boise State coudl make for a very interesting conversation as the season plays out if it gets off to a strong start. Ironically, that begins with a home game against Washington, coached by former Boise State coach Chris Petersen. If Boise State can send its old coach back home with a loss, and follows that with road wins at BYU and Virginia, the thought of a 12-0 Boise State making for a heated College Football Playoff debate will become all the more likely. Forget about locking up a spot in the New Years Six. Boise State fans will be thinking about the playoff itself, and they will even have a conference championship game to help boost them into the field.

There will be much to watch in Boise this season, and the mentality of the potential favorites will be shown this week.

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Football writers and National Football Foundation continue weekly poll in 2015

Urban Meyer, Eva Parziale

In case you thought there were not enough polls in the world of college football, the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation will once again cook up another weekly poll this season. The two organizations announced today the continuation of the Super 16 Poll, which will rank the top 16 teams in the country as determined by a poll of selected sportswriters, College Football Hall of Famers and NFF board members. The first poll will come your way on Tuesday, September 8 and will be released on a weekly basis every Sunday morning during the course of the regular season.

“We are proud to continue our partnership with the FWAA on the Super 16 Poll,” said NFF President & CEO <Steve Hatchell. “We received lots of positive feedback during the 2014 season from fans on how much they enjoyed the poll’s release each week, and we’re looking to expand upon that momentum. We believe that our voters offer an extremely credible set of opinions, and we hope that the combined respect of both our organizations will continue to provide a compelling reference point for fans to follow during the season.”

The cast of characters voting in this year’s weekly poll have not been announced yet, but should be released prior to the start of the season.

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Big Ten has momentum leading into media days, but will it last?

Jim Delany

For the first time in what seems like a generation, the Big Ten seems to be sitting high and mighty in the world of college football as it prepares for its annual media day event in Chicago later this week. After hearing coaches and players and more from similar media day events in the SEC, ACC and Big 12, the Big Ten will finally get a chance to respond and address some of the larger discussions regarding college football in 2015. The Big Ten has plenty of reason to be proud this season, but the big question should be how the Big Ten can follow up the success of a season ago.

Ohio State will roll into Chicago as the defending conference and national champions, and high expectations for Urban Meyer, Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Eliott, Cardale Jones or J.T. Barrett (and position-changing Braxton Miller) and company in the playoff hunt with a target on their backs in 2015. Michigan will introduce new head coach Jim Harbaugh to the Big Ten world. Wisconsin and Nebraska will once again be top threats out of the Big Ten West, although with new head coaches leading the charge. The conference’s newest additions, Rutgers and Maryland, are entering year two and looking to prove last season’s bowl trips were no fluke. Yes, commissioner Jim Delany has much to brag about following the Big Ten’s most successful bowl season in years, headlined by Ohio State’s championship run with Michigan State’s Cotton Bowl victory (not to mention a winning bowl record against the ACC and Big 12 and breaking even with the SEC (the Big Ten went 1-2 against the Pac-12, but that one was pretty noteworthy).

Delany will once again sit in front of a microphone before the media to present his annual state of the Big Ten address, at which time he has been known to delve into some American history as a tangent to his overall points about the NCAA and the Big Ten. Delany will be expected to offer his latest comments on the College Football Playoff (bank on him being fine with things the way they are), the dreaded satellite camp issue and defend the stature of the Big Ten after the conference was the target of some SEC folks in recent weeks. In other words, expect the usual. Even with a national title and a second New Years Six bowl victory, the Big Ten will have to defend its image to some. But media days will not be the place to do it properly. That test must be taken int he early going of the 2015 college football season.

bigtenlogoMany were quick to write the Big Ten off last season just two weeks into the year after a dreadful Week 2 showing by the conference in its biggest spotlight games. Ohio State lost at home to Virginia Tech. Michigan State let one get away at Oregon. Michigan was taken down by Notre Dame. It was a rough week, but the conference rebounded along the way and flew under the radar until the bowl season. Now the Big Ten must look to avoid a slow start this fall in order to keep the momentum going forward, instead of taking a step back.

Wisconsin faces Alabama in Arlington in the Cowboy Classic. Michigan opens at Utah. Ohio State begins at Virginia Tech. Minnesota hosts TCU in the season opener. Nebraska will welcome BYU to Lincoln. These are the noteworthy tests for the Big Ten early on. Going 4-1 in these games alone would be a respectable start to the new year. A 3-2 mark would still be a step in the right direction. Anything less would not be so kind in the eyes of some critics. There will be  other notable games as well (Illinois at North Carolina, Iowa vs. Pittsburgh, Nebraska at Miami, Maryland at West Virginia, Michigan vs. BYU) well worth paying attention to, as the reputation of the Big Ten will be put to the test by more than just Ohio State and Michigan State (who hosts Oregon in Week 2).

Will the Big Ten jump ahead of the rest of the power conferences in the opening weeks, or will some be quick to cast the Big Ten aside once more? That should be the message Delany sends to the conference this week. The work is just beginning.

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North Dakota State picked to win MVFC, Bo Pelini’s Youngstown St picked 4th

John Crockett

Ohio State was not the only defending national champion to be picked by members of the media to win its conference this season. North Dakota State, entering the 2015 season as four-time defending national champions, have been tabbed the preseason favorite in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

The Bison are coming off a rare four-peat and look to stretch their streak of dominance to five this fall. North Dakota State received 32 of 40 possible first-place votes in the preseason MVFC poll, with the other eight going to Illinois State. These two conference foes did not play each other in the regular season last season, but did clash in the FCS national championship game. The two programs were named co-champions of the conference last year. Both should be strong forces again this season.

For those more interested in the big time programs of the FBS or with only limited interest in the world of the FCS, here is another reason to be interested in this poll. Former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini is now coaching in the conference, at Youngstown State. Pelini’s Penguins have been picked fourth in the preseason poll of members of the media, sports information directors and coaches.

2015 Missouri Valley Football Conference Preseason Poll

1. North Dakota State (32)

2. Illinois State (8)

3. Northern Iowa

4. Youngstown State

5. South Dakota State

6. Indiana State

7. Southern Illinois

8. Western Illinois

9. Missouri State

10. South Dakota

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Report: Five Big 12 schools pondered Big Ten switch during 2010 realignment

Texas A&M quarterback Manziel carries the ball as University of Oklahoma linebacker Wort and defensive end Ndulue pursue during the first half of the Cotton Bowl Classic NCAA football game in Arlington, Texas AP

Omaha.com’s Lee Barfknecht has this juicy nugget five years after Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten kicked off a whirlwind cycle of conference realignment: What if the Cornhuskers had been one of five Big 12 programs to join the Big Ten?

Barfknecht reported Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Iowa State all had interest in making a regional leap to the Big Ten as Texas’ eyed a move west to the Pac-10:

A Big 12 athletic director, who spoke to The World-Herald on condition of anonymity, said he contacted Big Ten athletic directors and presidents with whom he was familiar in June 2010.

The topic: Was the Big Ten, which had 11 members at the time, interested in adding five Big 12 schools?

The feedback from Big Ten school officials was positive, both sources said. The sticking point was devising a revenue-sharing plan to satisfy all. It would have taken at least three to four years for that many incoming schools to hit the financial payoffs sought for moving.

Of course, this didn’t happen, and Nebraska joined the Big Ten on its own. Colorado went to the Pac-12, Mizzou and Texas A&M went to the SEC and the Big 12 added TCU and West Virginia. And buried at the bottom of Barfknecht’s story is this line:

If the predictions come true that the clock is ticking on the Big 12 sticking together, remember what we previously reported from two sources at Nebraska — the Big Ten has done its “homework’’ to evaluate Oklahoma and Kansas as potential members.

It’d seem unlikely Oklahoma would break up with Oklahoma State and join the Big Ten without its in-state rival, but then again, conference realignment took a flamethrower to rivalries like Texas-Texas A&M and Mizzou-Kansas, so nothing should be a surprise anymore. But since the Big 12 isn’t in in the process of dissolving just yet, let’s consider the repercussions of the Big Ten going to 16 teams in 2010. A few thoughts:

— Would it have been the first step toward four 16-team super-conferences forming? That was the hot rumor five years ago, with those 64 teams possibly breaking off from the NCAA and playing by their own rules and regulations.

— If that were the case, does Texas go to the Pac-10 with Colorado, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and…? This all happened right before Baylor’s ascendency, but would the Pac-10 have looked to the Mountain West and pulled Utah and TCU instead, leaving Baylor (and Kansas State) behind?

— Mizzou’s exclusion from the Big Ten rumor is interesting, and without Texas A&M, who else could join Mizzou in the SEC? Would Mike Slive & Co. been forced to look inside their current footprint to add other teams like Clemson, Florida State and Miami?

— If the ACC did lose three programs, it’d be down to nine members and would have to add seven to get up to 16. In this scenario, Maryland is still in the ACC and West Virginia and Rutgers still need homes, so perhaps those two schools join Louisville, Pitt and Syracuse. But who else? Do UCF and USF get a call to keep the ACC in Florida?

— This is more just thinking out loud for a scenario that didn’t (and never will, obviously) happen. But it’s always fascinating to think how different the college football landscape could be if just one thing changed during the realignment fracas — let alone a massive shift like the one reported here.

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Ohio State the Big Ten media’s unanimous pick to win conference

Cardale Jones

In the least surprising thing you’ll see this Monday morning, the Big Ten media unanimously picked the defending national champions to win another conference title.

All 40 voters in Cleveland.com’s media poll — the Big Ten does not conduct its own preseason media poll — picked Ohio State Buckeyes to repeat as conference champions. With arguably college football’s best coach in Urban Meyer and stars like QBs J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones, RB Ezekiel Elliott, QB/WR/TBD Braxton Miller and DE Joey Bosa returning, plus a ton of young talent moving up the ranks, there are plenty of reasons to think the Buckeyes will cruise through the Big Ten and back into the College Football Playoff.

Wisconsin was picked to win the West division, garnering 32 first-place votes and 272 points. Nebraska and Minnesota received five and three first-place votes, respectively.

The full voting breakdown:

EAST

1. Ohio State 280 (40)

2. Michigan State 240

3. Penn State 186.5

4. Michigan 163.5

5. Maryland 95.5

6. Rutgers 78

7. Indiana 76.5

WEST

1. Wisconsin 272 (32)

2. Nebraska 231.5 (5)

3. Minnesota 197 (3)

4. Iowa 158.5

5. Northwestern 125

6. Illinois 77

7. Purdue 59

Big Ten Championship 

Ohio State over Wisconsin (32)

Ohio State over Nebraska (5)

Ohio State over Minnesota (3)

Big Ten Champion

Ohio State (40)

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‘Personal reasons’ lead CB Ryon’e Winters to transfer from Wyoming

Craig Bohl will head into his second summer camp at Wyoming a little lighter in the defensive secondary, the school announced late this past week.

In a press release, UW confirmed that Ryon’e Winters has decided to leave the Wyoming football program for what was described only as “personal reasons.”  In a tweet posted to his Twitter account, a similar theme emerged as the cornerback revealed that he will be transferring to another, undetermined program to continue his playing career.

“I have made the decision that I will no longer play football at the University of Wyoming for personal reasons, and I will be taking my talents elsewhere!” the Missouri native wrote. “I appreciate all the support and the relationships that I have gained with my fellow teammates and others along this journey!”

As a true freshman last season, Winters played in nine games, with that action coming primarily on special teams.  He was credited with four tackles.

The sophomore exited spring practice earlier this year No. 2 at one of the corner positions.

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Taking a Chance: three-star WMU QB signee heads to D-II

Chance Stewart

In 2014, Chance Stewart was thought to be the next big thing at the quarterback position for Western Michigan.  In 2015, Stewart will ply his football wares a couple of rungs down the collegiate football ladder.

On its official Twitter page a few days ago, Hillsdale College in Michigan officially welcomed Stewart to its football program.  As the Chargers play at the Div. II level, Stewart can compete immediately in 2015.

He will also have four years of eligibility remaining beginning with this upcoming season.

Chance was a three-star member of WMU’s 2014 recruiting class, rated as the No. 21 pro-style quarterback in the country.  He was just the fourth quarterback rated more than a two-star prospect signed by the Broncos since Rivals.com began releasing rankings for the 2002 cycle, joining Anthony Maddie (2012), Mike Perish (2010) and Tim Hiller (2005), all of whom were three-star signees.

Only Hiller, the most prolific passer in Broncos history, ever started a game under center for the Broncos amongst that quartet.

For the 2016 class, P.J. Fleck has also landed a verbal commitment from another three-star quarterback prospect: Illinois prep star Matt Little.  That dual-threat signal-caller is part of a class that’s currently ranked 52nd in the country;  that’s the best current class in the MAC, easily ahead of No. 74 Toledo, No. 80 Miami of Ohio, No. 92 Central Michigan and on down that conference line.

(Photo credit: Western Michigan athletics)

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Another ex-UAB player ‘returning’ home to play for Blazers

Late this past week it was reported that kicker Nick Vogel was transferring from Southern Miss back to UAB, the first former Blazer to return to the previously-disbanded football program since the university announced it would resume the sport in 2017.  This weekend, Vogel got a little company at what has the makings of a burgeoning reunion.

Saturday, al.com reported that the UAB football team will be bringing back Bryant Novick and adding him to its roster. Novick had considered transferring to Hawaii, James Madison or Tennessee-Chattanooga before opting to remain with the Blazers, telling the website that “staying here was the right thing to do.”

Novick was a redshirt freshman for the Blazers in 2014. How he, along with Vogel and any others that return, will be classified is still something that needs to be decided by the NCAA.

Regardless of class standing, Novick sees it as a positive that the program will take a couple of seasons to get back on its feet as it rebuilds.

“I think [it’s] a good thing,” the lineman said of a 2017 return. “That way we aren’t rushed into a season right away, and it allows for coach [Bill] Clark and UAB to do it the right way.”

The Hoover, Ala., native took a redshirt as a true freshman, then saw action in three games in 2014.

In addition to Novick and Vogel, it was also reported earlier this month that Tyler Jones, a transfer from Memphis, had joined the UAB team as well.

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Mich. St. yanks offer after 2016 Sparty commit attends Ohio St. camp

Michigan State and Ohio State are Big Ten East rivals on the field, and they also tangle on quite a few occasions off the field on the recruiting trail.  One such entanglement on the latter front has led to a rather interesting development when it comes to next year’s recruiting cycle.

Gavin Cupp is a three-star offensive tackle in the Class of 2016 who committed to Michigan State in May of this year. Cupp, the No. 31 tackle in next year’s class according to Rivals.com, decided that he was going to attend Ohio State’s Friday Night Lights camp this past weekend.

That decision — or the decision to keep the camp visit from them — apparently didn’t sit well with the MSU coaching staff. From 247Sports.com:

Cupp never informed the Michigan State staff that he would attend Ohio State’s FNL camp. A source close to the situation has informed Spartan Tailgate that the Michigan State coaches have pulled Cupp’s scholarship. It’s very unlikely Cupp will sign with Michigan State.

It’s at this point in the program where we inform readers that Cupp doesn’t currently hold a scholarship offer from the Buckeyes. Whoops?

As this situation proves, loyalty and transparency, especially on the recruiting trail, is a very big deal to Mark Dantonio and his football program.  Cupp, regardless of whatever and wherever his future holds, learned that lesson first-hand.

Of course, he still holds offers from, among others, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Pittsburgh, Virginia and West Virginia, so it’s not like the teenager’s out of options.  It’s just that, apparently, East Lansing won’t be one of them.

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